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Pennsylvania bishops urge votes to be guided by faith

| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh will make the statement available at Mass on Saturday and Sunday, encouraging parishioners to remember the guidelines when voting, Bishop David Zubik said. (Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review)
The Diocese of Pittsburgh will make the statement available at Mass on Saturday and Sunday, encouraging parishioners to remember the guidelines when voting, Bishop David Zubik said. (Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review)

Roman Catholic bishops in Pennsylvania are urging the faithful to remember the church's teachings on marriage, education and religious liberty when voting on Tuesday, calling this presidential election a “historical challenge.”

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference chose All Saints' Day to issue its election statement reminding Catholics that “most urgent political issues — ranging from the economy, immigration and abortion to global security — raise profoundly moral questions.”

“Because politics is the place where competing moral visions of a society meet and struggle, our democracy depends on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square, yet doing so with an abiding respect for one another,” the bishops said.

“That struggle includes and depends on all of us, precisely as Catholics. For if we believe that a particular issue is gravely evil or that it will result in serious damage to society, then we have a duty, both as Catholics and as Americans, to hold political candidates accountable.”

The bishops warned against efforts to redefine the nature of marriage, to exclude parental authority in school choice, to encroach upon Catholic health care and social services and to erode religious liberty — an apparent reference to a Health and Human Services mandate on contraceptives and federal funding for abortion in Obamacare.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh will make the statement available at Mass on Saturday and Sunday, encouraging parishioners to remember the guidelines when voting, Bishop David Zubik said. The Diocese of Greensburg posted the statement on its website.

Though the bishops did not name candidates, their statement gives a subtle nod for Republican Mitt Romney's platform with its reference to gay marriage and school choice. Zubik and other bishops in January criticized a requirement in President Obama's health care law that religious agencies must offer employees insurance coverage for contraceptives and sterilization.

Zubik said the Obama administration wants to “confine the practice of our faith to the church building.”

“We are unified to preserve that we practice our faith everywhere,” he said.

Joyce Rothermel of Wilkins, a member of an ad hoc Catholics for Obama group that meets monthly, said she agrees with much of the bishops' statement but is disappointed that it doesn't address poverty or social justice.

“That disturbed me, as a Catholic,” said Rothermel, who for years led the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. “By narrowing the agenda to items like marriage and religious liberty, they are weighing the counsel to their constituency towards the Republican candidates on all levels. As a Democrat who tends to vote Democrat, I don't find myself in the same thinking pattern as the Catholic hierarchy.”

In 2008, the bishops issued a similar guide addressing abortion and euthanasia. Today, Zubik said, such social issues remain important but religious freedom is paramount.

“At election time, charity and truth are expressed through the votes we cast in favor of the inherent dignity of every human person and the common good of all,” the bishops said. “In this respect, faith must inform our electoral decisions. The Catholic faith is always personal but never private. If our faith is real, then it will naturally and necessarily guide our public decisions and behaviors, including our political choices.”

Many political analysts consider Catholics the ultimate bellwether vote, said Catherine Wilson, a Villanova University political scientist.

“They represent nearly a quarter of all voters and they traditionally outvote non-Catholics in higher proportions,” she said, noting that since the 1960 presidential election every winner of the Catholic vote became president except Democrat Al Gore in 2000.

Among adults, 23.9 percent are Catholic, according to a 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, its latest available data. Twenty-nine percent of Pennsylvania adults are Catholic. The Pittsburgh Diocese claimed 673,801 Catholics in 2008, among 1.9 million people in Allegheny and five surrounding counties. The Greensburg Diocese has 159,000 members in 85 parishes, spokesman Jerry Zufelt said.

Issuing a strongly worded guideline to core voters on the eve of the election — in a state that became a battleground again — could be a catalyst for undecided voters, Wilson said. She does not think the bishops will change the minds of people who have decided on a candidate, and Catholics won't vote as a bloc, she said. Obama won the Catholic vote in 2008, and Romney handily won among Catholics during Republican primaries, Wilson said.

All Saints' Day is a holy day of obligation. Vice President Joe Biden began his day in Davenport, Iowa, by attending Mass, the White House said. Like Biden, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, is Catholic, but he did not attend Mass, the campaign said.

Ryan addressed poverty and social justice, core concerns of progressive Catholics, in an Oct. 24 speech at Cleveland State University.

Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at Staff writer Brian Bowling contributed.

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